best for last

The following will come as no surprise to you if you’ve been keeping up with this blog for the last year.  At least I think all of those Jim Henson posts were done last May… I have a hard time keeping track of this thing.

This is ‘fly in my soup’ guy, right?  Love him!

Circa 1976. A very special year.  Loving the color coordination.

Stahs in the sky!

the worst kind of acceptance

I’m going to try to get all of this Lena stuff out of my system today.  It’ll actually never be out of my system, but as far as blogging goes… you know what I mean.  I really enjoyed the following NPR blog post focusing on the racialization of Ms. Lena Horne.  I wonder how different things would have been for her if things would have been different.

Lena Horne: Of Race And Acceptance


In the reports of Lena Horne’s death that have emerged so far, much has been made of the fact that she was a black woman in an age of popular entertainment dominated by white faces. Her talent was obvious, but her skin hampered her attempts to become a major movie star, assigning her to bit parts that could be removed for Southern audiences.

Eventually, after the civil rights movement, Horne would be recognized as an entertainment icon. Her work as a jazz singer, theatre performer and television actress did much for that legacy, as well. But she also knew that the skin color that worked against her also worked for her. In the obituary that came over the AP wire, she is quoted as saying this:

“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance, because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

“A kind of black that white people could accept.” Think on that for a moment, and beyond the idea of being a light-skinned African-American. You could write the entire history of jazz through that lens.

Jazz’s early black stars (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole, Billie Holiday and others) worked overtime to be somehow disarming, or mythologized, or otherwise acceptable to white bourgeois audiences. Meanwhile, the music they and all their colleagues were making was popularized by white musicians — Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the Dorsey Brothers — sometimes well, sometimes drained of its swing energy. This continuing process is a big part of jazz’s transformation from scourge of society into America’s classical music.

Indeed, the entire cultural history of the U.S. in the 20th century could be viewed like that. Even today, where ethnic identity comes in many more shades, the middle-class white audience still plays arbiter and co-opter of what hits the mainstream. That’s admittedly a reductive viewpoint, ignoring the powerful experience of the art created, and perhaps it’s a bit cynical, too. But it would be true to Lena Horne’s experience, both marginalized and a trailblazer for who she, biologically, was.

So what’s to do about this? Can’t we just remember Horne as a great singer and actress, the woman who did “Stormy Weather,” and the person whose friendship with Billy Strayhorn brought out the best in both of them?

Sure, but I’d rather not do only that. For one, it negates how she stood up against demeaning portrayals in what roles she took, and how she spoke out strongly against discrimination throughout her career. By omitting all that from our narrative of her life, it allows even the most well-meaning of people to conveniently forget how racism profoundly shaped the creation, marketing and embrace of American art, and continues to do so today.

The New York Times‘ obituary has another illustrative quotation:

My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.

Lena Horne didn’t choose to be racialized based on her genetic assignment, but she was. Remarkably, she ran with it, using it as a source of strength and pride and artistic inspiration. That’s worth remembering, to0.

goodbye, lena

I am deeply saddened by the loss of the legendary Lena Horne.  I don’t think I have much  personal commentary at this moment.  I met Lena Horne once.  I was four or five.  My mom had a friend in Ms. Horne’s Broadway show.

She took me to see it.  We went backstage.  My mom says that with Lena and I it was love at first sight.  From what I can recall, I agree.  On my end anyway.  When I think back on that night the images that come up are all glowy and glittery with a hazy quality.  Almost like a dream.  Lena was truly magical.  She seemed to think I was as well.  Heck, when I was four or five I thought I was magical, too.  Or, should I say that I knew I was. That I hadn’t forgotten.  And nobody had tried to tell me otherwise yet.  I imagine now that Lena sprinkled some kind of fairy dust on me with a whisper never to forget who I am.  Not any part of it.  Especially not the magic.

I digress.

Needless to say I am extremely grateful to my mother and to Vondie and to Lena for that moment.  And also to Lena for breaking down barriers and speaking out against injustices and for paving the way for me to stand here today thinking these thoughts and trying to be a beacon for positive social change.

via The Huffington Post

Singer Dies At 92


NEW YORK — Lena Horne, the enchanting jazz singer and actress known for her plaintive, signature song “Stormy Weather” and for her triumph over the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them, has died. She was 92.

Horne died Sunday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Gloria Chin, who would not release details.

Quincy Jones, a longtime friend and collaborator, was among those mourning her death Monday. He called her a “pioneering groundbreaker.”

“Our friendship dated back more than 50 years and continued up until the last moment, her inner and outer beauty immediately bonding us forever,” said Jones, who noted that they worked together on the film “The Wiz” and a Grammy-winning live album.

“Lena Horne was a pioneering groundbreaker, making inroads into a world that had never before been explored by African-American women, and she did it on her own terms,” he added. “Our nation and the world has lost one of the great artistic icons of the 20th century. There will never be another like Lena Horne and I will miss her deeply.”

“I knew her from the time I was born, and whenever I needed anything she was there. She was funny, sophisticated and truly one of a kind. We lost an original. Thank you Lena,” Liza Minnelli said Monday. Her father, director Vincente Minnelli, brought Horne to Hollywood to star in “Cabin in the Sky,” in 1943.

Horne, whose striking beauty often overshadowed her talent and artistry, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success: “I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

In the 1940s, Horne was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, to play the Copacabana nightclub in New York City and when she signed with MGM, she was among a handful of black actors to have a contract with a major Hollywood studio.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical “Stormy Weather.” Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her most famous tune.

Horne had an impressive musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in such songs as “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” In 1942’s “Panama Hattie,” her first movie with MGM, she sang Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” winning critical acclaim.

In her first big Broadway success, as the star of “Jamaica” in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her “one of the incomparable performers of our time.” Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her “the best female singer of songs.”

“It’s just a great loss,” said Janet Jackson in an interview on Monday. “She brought much joy into everyone’s lives – even the younger generations, younger than myself. She was such a great talent. She opened up such doors for artists like myself.”

Horne was perpetually frustrated with racism.

“I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn’t work for places that kept us out. … It was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world,” she said in Brian Lanker’s book “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.”

While at MGM, Horne starred in the all-black “Cabin in the Sky,” but in most movies, she appeared only in musical numbers that could be cut when shown in the South and she was denied major roles and speaking parts. Horne, who had appeared in the role of Julie in a “Show Boat” scene in a 1946 movie about Jerome Kern, seemed a logical choice for the 1951 movie, but the part went to a white actress, Ava Gardner, who did not sing.

“Metro’s cowardice deprived the musical (genre) of one of the great singing actresses,” film historian John Kobal wrote.

“She was a very angry woman,” said film critic-author-documentarian Richard Schickel, who worked with Horne on her 1965 autobiography.

“It’s something that shaped her life to a very high degree. She was a woman who had a very powerful desire to lead her own life, to not be cautious and to speak out. And she was a woman, also, who felt in her career that she had been held back by the issue of race. So she had a lot of anger and disappointment about that.”

Early in her career, Horne cultivated an aloof style out of self-preservation. Later, she embraced activism, breaking loose as a voice for civil rights and as an artist. In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity as a revered icon of American popular music.

Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” won a special Tony Award, and the accompanying album, produced by Jones, earned her two Grammy Awards. (Horne won another Grammy, in 1995 for “An Evening With Lena Horne.”) In it, the 64-year-old singer used two renditions – one straight and the other gut-wrenching – of “Stormy Weather” to give audiences a glimpse of the spiritual odyssey of her five-decade career.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1917, to a leading family in black society. Her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her 1986 book “The Hornes: An American Family” that among their relatives was Frank Horne, an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She was largely raised by her grandparents as her mother, Edna Horne, who pursued a career in show business and father Teddy Horne separated. Lena dropped out of high school at age 16 and joined the chorus line at the Cotton Club, the fabled Harlem night spot where the entertainers were black and the clientele white. She left the club in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle’s orchestra, billed as Helena Horne, the name she continued using when she joined Charlie Barnet’s white orchestra in 1940.

A movie offer from MGM came when she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers in 1942.

Her success led some blacks to accuse Horne of trying to “pass” in a white world with her light complexion. Max Factor even developed an “Egyptian” makeup shade especially for her. But she refused to go along with the studio’s efforts to portray her as an exotic Latina.

“I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become,” Horne once said. “I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

Horne was only 2 when her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP. But she avoided activism until 1945 when she was entertaining at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting up front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.

That pivotal moment channeled her anger into something useful.

She got involved in various social and political organizations and, partly because of a friendship with singer-actor-activist Paul Robeson, was blacklisted during the red-hunting McCarthy era.

By the 1960s, Horne was one of the most visible celebrities in the civil rights movement, once throwing a lamp at a customer who made a racial slur in a Beverly Hills restaurant and, in 1963, joining 250,000 others in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination.

The next decade brought her first to a low point, then to a fresh burst of artistry. She appeared in her last movie in 1978, playing Glinda the Good in “The Wiz,” directed by her son-in-law, Sidney Lumet.

Horne had married MGM music director Lennie Hayton, a white man, in Paris in 1947 after her first overseas engagements in France and England. An earlier marriage to Louis J. Jones had ended in divorce in 1944 after producing daughter Gail and a son, Teddy.

“It was in Hollywood that Horne met her second husband, Lennie Hayton, who was also her musical mentor at MGM. He was also white. When the couple announced their marriage in 1950 — three years after it had actually occurred, they were confronted with angry rejection from the Hollywood community. Despite all the difficulties of a racially mixed marriage, their union flourished, lasting from 1947 until Hayton’s death in 1971.”

Her father, her son and Hayton all died in 1970 and 1971, and the grief-stricken singer secluded herself, refusing to perform or even see anyone but her closest friends. One of them, comedian Alan King, took months persuading her to return to the stage, with results that surprised her.

“I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters,” she said. “It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live.”

And she discovered that time had mellowed her bitterness.

“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” she said, “because being black made me understand.”

the gains to be realized from black-white intermarriage

What a life! From the seemingly extreme “Take that eugenics!”attitude of her parents, to the prodiginous achievements of her childhood, on to the “passing” years Philippa Schuyler’s story encompasses so many fascinating facets of the “biracial” experience of old.

Philippa Schuyler


Classical pianist, writer

One of the most unusual and perhaps most tragic figures in American cultural history, Philippa Schuyler gained national acclaim as a child prodigy on the piano. Her picture graced the covers of weekly news magazines, and she was hailed as a young American Mozart. Schuyler’s life during adulthood, however, was a difficult one. She struggled with racial discrimination and with issues related to her mixed-race background, traveling the world in an attempt to find not only musical success but also an identity and a place in the world. She turned to writing in the early 1960s, visiting war zones as a newspaper correspondent, and she was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1967. After her death she was mostly forgotten for several decades, but her life story was told in a 1995 biography.

Philippa Duke Schuyler was born on August 2, 1931, in New York and brought up in Harlem at the height of the area’s cultural flowering. The complexities of her life began with her background, for she had two singular parents. Her father George Schuyler was a journalist who wrote for one of the leading black newspapers of the day, the Pittsburgh Courier, and he was well acquainted with numerous writers in both black and white journalistic circles. He was not a civil rights crusader like many of his Harlem contemporaries, but rather a conservative satirist who rejected the idea of a distinctive black culture and later in life joined the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society. Philippa Schuyler’s mother, Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, was a white Southern belle from a Texas ranch who had married George Schuyler after coming to New York to escape a wealthy family of unreconstructed racists. They all refused to attend concerts Philippa Schuyler gave in Texas at the height of her fame.

Schuyler’s parents were in the grip of several novel theories and fads, some of which they devised themselves. They fed Philippa raw vegetables, brains, and liver, believing that cooking leached vital nutrients out of food. And, in contrast to the now-discredited but at the time widely held belief in eugenics, which formed the basis for Nazi ideas of racial purity, they claimed that racial mixing could produce a superior “hybrid” sort of human. That notion had strong effects on Philippa Schuyler’s life, for the Schuylers planned to make their daughter into Exhibit A for the gains that could be realized from black-white intermarriage.

And, indeed, the plan seemed to work. Schuyler walked before she was a year old, was said to be reading the Rubaiyat poems of Omar Khayyam at two and a half, and playing the piano and writing stories at three. When she was five, Schuyler underwent an IQ test at Columbia University; it yielded the genius-level figure of 185. She made rapid progress on the piano, and due to Mr. Schuyler’s connections it wasn’t long before stories about Philippa began to appear in New York newspapers.

Schuyler’s mother, described by the New York Times as “the stage mother from hell, blending a frustrated artist’s ambition with an activist’s self-righteousness,” started to enter her in musical competitions. Schuyler did spectacularly well and was a regular concert attraction by the time she was eight. Just short of her ninth birthday, New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named a day after her at the New York World’s Fair. But her childhood was an isolated one; she was taught mostly by private tutors and had no friends her own age. Her mother, who fired her piano teachers whenever she began to get close to one emotionally, beat her regularly.

For a period of time during World War II, Schuyler was a national child star. She wrote a symphony at age 13, and leading composer and critic Virgil Thomson pronounced it the equal of works that Mozart had written at that age after the New York Philharmonic performed it in 1945. A concert Schuyler performed with the Philharmonic soon after that was attended by a crowd of 12,000, and profiles of the attractive teen appeared in Time, Look, and The New Yorker. Schuyler was promoted by the black press in general, not just in her father’s Pittsburgh Courier, as a role model, and she certainly inspired a generation of black parents to sign their kids up for piano lessons.

But there were pitfalls ahead for the talented youngster. When she was 13, she discovered a scrapbook her mother had kept of her accomplishments, and more and more she began to feel like an exotic flower on display. On tour, especially in the South, she began to experience racial prejudice, something of which she had been mostly unaware during her sheltered upbringing. Bookings began to dry up, except in black-organized concert series. Observers have offered various explanations as to why. Schuyler herself and many others pointed to discrimination; the world of classical music has never been a nurturing one for African-American performers, and in the 1940s very few blacks indeed had access to major concert stages. Some felt that Schuyler’s playing, although technically flawless, suffered from an emotionless quality brought on by the strictures of her demanding life. And Schuyler faced a problem she had in common with other teenage sensations—the tendency of the spotlight to seek out the next young phenomenon.

Though Schuyler briefly fascinated the nation as a mulatto child prodigy, white America lost interest in her as she aged.

Schuyler and her mother reacted by once again calling in George Schuyler’s connections; he had friends in Latin American countries, and Schuyler began to give concerts there. In 1952 she visited Europe for the first time. Schuyler enjoyed travel, and, like other black performers, found a measure of unprejudiced acceptance among European audiences. Over the next 15 years she would appear in 80 countries and would master four new languages, becoming proficient enough in French, Portuguese, and Italian that she could write for periodicals published in those languages. She traveled to Africa as well as Europe, performing for independence leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Haile Selassie in Ethiopia—but also passing for white in apartheid-era South Africa. Schuyler began to resist the pressure that still came from her parents, but she remained close to them, writing to her mother almost daily and becoming their chief means of financial support.

Her income came not only from music but also from lectures she gave to groups such as the virulently anti-internationalist John Birch Society, for Schuyler had come to share her father’s conservative politics. Despite her performances in newly independent African capitals, she came to adopt a positive outlook on European colonialism.

Confused and fearful about the future, Schuyler took steps in two new directions. First, since her ethnic identity seemed uncertain to those who had never encountered her, she began in 1962 to bill herself as Felipa Monterro or Felipa Monterro y Schuyler. She even obtained a new passport in that name. Her motivation seems to have been split between a desire to have audiences judge her without knowing of her African-American background, and a broader renunciation of her black identity. The ruse convinced audiences for a time, but the reviews of her concerts were mixed, and she soon abandoned the effort.

Second, Schuyler began to write. Traveling the globe, she filed stories from political hot spots for United Press International and later for the ultraconservative Manchester Union Leader newspaper in New Hampshire.  She wrote several books and magazine articles as well, and at her death she left several unpublished novels in various stages of completion. One of them evolved into an autobiography, Adventures in Black and White, which was published in 1960.

She traveled to Vietnam to do lay missionary work, supporting U.S. military action there and writing a posthumously published book about American soldiers, Good Men Die. She founded an organization devoted to the aid of children fathered by U.S. servicemen, and on several occasions she assisted Catholic organizations in evacuating children and convent residents from areas of what was then the nation of South Vietnam as pro-North Vietnamese guerrillas advanced. It was on one of those evacuation missions, on May 9, 1967, that Schuyler’s helicopter crashed into Da Nang Bay. She drowned, for she was unable to swim. Shortly before her death, she had written a letter that seemed to suggest a political change of heart, expressing sympathy with black activist leader Stokely Carmichael.

Schuyler’s funeral was held at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and in death she was once again in the headlines. Two years after her death, Schuyler’s mother hanged herself in her Harlem apartment. A New York City school was named after Schuyler, but her name dropped into temporary obscurity. She became better known with the publication in 1995 of Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler, a biography by Kathryn Talalay. In 2004, star vocalist Alicia Keys was signed to portray Schuyler in a film co-produced by actress Halle Berry. “This story is so much about finding your place in the world,” Keys told Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. “Where do we really fit in, in a world so full of boxes and categories?”


feels so good

I’m sure I’ve blogged about my love, admiration, and respect for Ella Fitzgerald.  I’ve also vlogged about my favorite song ever,

.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled upon this old commercial in which my favorite musical genius’ converged!  I hope you are imagining me being stunned and extremely delighted because I was.  Still am.

While we’re on the subject of Chuck Mangione, I’d like to take this opportunity to post this drawing that I perceive to be a rendering of Mr. Mangione playing my favorite song.  That’s probably not what the artist intended, but that’s what I got.  Maybe it’s the hat.

I might as well post these other jazz inspired images that I enjoy.

oh… but… jill…

I was pained by this headline, but upon reading the article wasn’t as offended as I’d prepared myself to be.  There’s a lot of history behind this pain, and I won’t ask anyone not to feel it or to ignore it.  That would be detrimental to our progress.  I’m glad Jill Scott has put this out there in this way.  I wonder, though, if her soul burns when she sees a not-so-successful black man with a white woman.  The history is the same and the choice sends the same message wealthy man or not, right?  Anyhow, I think we need to dialogue about this so that we’re clear on where these pains and hurts originate, so that eventually the love a person lives will speak to his soul’s credibility.  Not the color of the love a person lives.

Jill Scott ‘pained by mixed-race couples’

By Marcell Minaya

Jill Scott has reportedly said that her “soul burns” every time she see a “successful black man with a white woman”.

In an interview with Essence magazine, the R&B-soul singer-songwriter said that she wished that a male, African-American friend was married to a black, rather than a Caucasian, woman.

Scott wrote: “My new friend is handsome, African-American, intelligent and seemingly wealthy. He is an athlete, loves his momma, and is happily married to a white woman. I admit when I saw his wedding ring, I privately hoped. But something in me just knew he didn’t marry a sister. Although my guess hit the mark, when my friend told me his wife was indeed Caucasian, I felt my spirit wince. I didn’t immediately understand it. My face read happy for you. My body showed no reaction to my inner pinch, but the sting was there, quiet like a mosquito under a summer dress.”

She continued: “Was I jealous? Did the reality of his relationship somehow diminish his soul’s credibility? The answer is not simple. One could easily dispel the wince as racist or separatist, but that’s not how I was brought up. I was reared in a Jehovah’s Witness household. I was taught that every man should be judged by his deeds and not his colour and I firmly stand where my grandmother left me. African people worldwide are known to be welcoming and open-minded. We share our culture sometimes to our own peril and most of us love the very notion of love. My position is that for women of colour, this very common “wince” has solely to do with the African story in America.”

Scott added: “Our minds do understand that people of all races find genuine love in many places. We dig that the world is full of amazing options. But underneath, there is a bite, no matter the ointment, that has yet to stop burning. Some may find these thoughts to be hurtful. That is not my intent. I’m just sayin’.”


even if others think differently

This is the first thing I’ve read/heard that makes me want to see Avatar.  Not that that’s the point of the article or anything.  I’m just sayin’.

Supa sista!

Richard Barnett


Philly hip-hop poet Ursula Rucker celebrates black history at Montreal’s Festival Voix d’Amériques

Famed poet and Philadelphia native Ursula Desiré Rucker cannot believe she has never been invited to perform at an event during Black History Month. Ever.

Until now.

“It’s the weirdest thing,” says Rucker, who headlines Montreal’s internationally renowned Festival Voix d’Amériques next week. “Growing up, my family joked it was the shortest month of the year. But today, for me, [Black History Month] is all year long.”

Rucker shot to fame in 1994 after she nervously stood before an audience on open-mic night at Zanzibar Blue in Philly, the City of Brotherly Love most folks these days call “Killadelphia.”

…In many ways, Rucker has become the hip-hop nation’s Maya Angelou – if Angelou’s words were stamped “Explicit lyrics.”

But Rucker isn’t R-rated so much as she is brutally frank about issues ranging from womanhood and slavery to love and politics. For instance, right now many blacks are deeply insulted by John Cameron’s movie Avatar, basically a racist piece of s*** white folks have made the top-grossing film of all time.

Avatar is yet another “white messiah” fable – much like the films A Man Called Horse,Dances With Wolves and At Play in the Fields of the Lord – and Rucker is having none of it.

“The most important thing I try to impress upon my children each and every day is to be who you are even if others think differently,” says Rucker, a married mother with four sons aged 5 to 15. “We went to see Avatar and it was the same old story as Pocahontas: The oppressor comes in and makes everything better. I don’t Facebook much, but I had to post something! My 11-year-old son was like, ‘Must you always be ranting about something!’ But if I don’t speak my mind, then that’s not me!”

…For many white folks, that clenched fist basically means black power. But Rucker is for everybody. In fact, she grew up in a mixed-race family in Philly.

“My mom is Italian and my dad is black from Virginia,” Rucker says. “Growing up was pretty cool except when I was really young. I had issues with it. When I found out everyone else’s mom wasn’t white, I started feeling strange. Sometimes when I was little I’d be embarrassed to go out [with my mom]. Then when I hung out with my mom’s family, one of my aunts would use the term ‘coloured.’ They were old-school.”

“But then in college I got revolutionary. Being light-skinned in the 1980s was interesting in America.” Those years helped shape Rucker and her sweet “song-speak” on her landmark 2001 album Supa Sista before she wowed audiences at the 2005 Amnesty International Australia Freedom Festival. Still, after all these years, Ursula Desiré Rucker has yet to headline a Black History Month event back home in America.

Which is why she is so looking forward to being the guest of honour at the Festival Voix d’Amériques here in February.

“Being a person of mixed race isn’t an issue for me [anymore] – I’m so comfortable with who I am now. I’m proud of both [my racial heritages] but,” Rucker says with typical fire, “I lean [more] to being black in America because that’s where I’m needed most.”

corinne bailey rae: true and genuine

Corinne Bailey Rae, an English literature graduate with a love of Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood, is talking about words, lyrics and punctuation. Her songs, she says, are an expression of her ‘unfettered self’.

…From the age of 15 she played the guitar and sang in an all-girl indie grunge band called Helen. Their first ‘proper’ gig was at the Duchess of York pub in Leeds in 1996. Her desire to make a go of the band was behind her decision to study at the University of Leeds. She had applied to Balliol College, Oxford, and achieved the necessary four As at A-level, but didn’t get in. She wasn’t hugely disappointed: she had found the Oxford interview process ‘quite alienating. There weren’t many people from my experiences. I didn’t meet any working-class people, I didn’t meet any black people.’

Bailey Rae grew up listening to all kinds of music. Her mother, from Yorkshire, and her father, who had moved from St Kitts in the Caribbean in his late teens, had a collection of Stax and Motown singles (they divorced when Bailey Rae was 12). The progressively minded youth leader at her church introduced her to Björk and the Cocteau Twins: music that he felt was ‘kinda trippy, a bit cerebral, a bit spiritual’. As a result of her mixed race – she dislikes the term but accepts that most people understand it (for a long time, if forced to describe her ethnicity, she preferred to say ‘brown’) – it has always been important to her to embrace all kinds of musical genres. She hates the notion that suggests that ‘Oh, black people only like R&B…

I don’t only like R&B,’ she says. ‘I always love in life when you see people acting in a way that is true and genuine to them but doesn’t fit into the perceived notion of how they would respond to something.’


russian stuff


A psychedelic house of Russian blacksmith in a Russian village near Yekaterinburg city. They say the blacksmith himself has already passed away and his wife gets offers to sell it regularly but she denies them. via

oW5E9lxRro83psy7tx2YXlzUo1_500Russian sausage art


Regina Spektor

Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing Regina Spektor live at Radio City Music hall.  Born in Moscow, raised in NYC, this woman is a brilliant musician and songwriter.  I am in awe.

Regina Spektor Interview

Robert Brink

Yeah, but what I noticed in reading, what stands out the most to me is the comparisons …writers have compared you to the likes of Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Billie Holliday, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Susanne Vega, Kate Bush, Norah Jones and on and on, but it seems everyone needs to compare you to someone else in order to explain you…
I know and the weird thing is I don’t think Kate Bush sounds like Billie Holliday. I used to get really upset about it and then I had one show, one of my early shows at Sidewalk Cafè, and after the show, different people came up to me at different times and I counted about seven different women that I got compared to. One person would be like, “You sound so much like Joni Mitchell.” And another would say, “Wow you sound so much like Janis Joplin.” And in my mind I’d be like “What?! Those people don’t even sound like one another. Where do Nina Simone and Tori Amos come in together, ya know?

Other than it being a female with a good voice and maybe a guitar or piano….
Do you think maybe it happens more to women? Because there’s lots of guys with guitars but you don’t hear Jeff Buckley getting compared to Kurt Cobain just because they are both guys with guitars. But with a woman its like “Oh female voice” and they just throw out a name.

…I remember listening to a marketing meeting once and I heard someone say “We couldn’t place this female on the radio right now because there’s another female in the top 10 already. So if you really pay attention to what’s being played, there’s a lot less females—especially songwriters. And a lot of the ones that are there are like, somebody featuring somebody—like a man featuring Beyonce, or a man featuring Ashanti or something like that.

…I understand people’s need to classify. I mean, that’s what humanity is built on. We’ll walk into a new territory and discover a new flower and give it like a seven name Latin title, ya know? And the little flower is like “I’m just a pink with blue spots little flower! And nobody else is like me!” But they totally need to classify and explain.

Maybe it’s just trying to find a comfort zone and a familiarity…
Yeah, but also I feel like it makes people not even see the excitement about being themselves. Its like “What do you sound like?” And you are really proud of it and you say “Myself!” Obviously it should be a given that you are influenced by lots of things. I mean, who the hell isn’t? And if you aren’t influenced by a lot of things, you’re just dumb. Because that’s the greatest gift we have—the amount of great art in the world that’s never going to run out anytime soon.